Simon Cheng: Hongkonger who was held in mainland China optimistic he can stay in Britain

Stuart Lau

Former British consulate employee Simon Cheng Man-kit has said he expects the UK government to finalise details of his “protection arrangement” by June, as authorities in London assessed the Hongkonger’s claim that he was tortured while under Chinese custody last year.

Cheng, 28, said he was “optimistic” about the prospect of being able to stay in Britain when he addressed a protest in support of dissidents in Hong Kong and Xinjiang outside the Chinese embassy in London on Sunday.

Previously a trade and investment officer for the Scottish development international section of the British consulate in Hong Kong, Cheng was detained by Chinese authorities in August while returning to Hong Kong from a business trip to the neighbouring mainland city of Shenzhen.

His detention came at the height of Hong Kong’s anti-government protests, which were triggered by a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed suspects to be sent to the mainland’s Communist Party-controlled courts for trial.

“I am waiting for the details of the protection arrangement to be ready, hopefully by June,” Cheng said when asked about the British government’s progress. Cheng has so far been staying in London on a working holiday visa.

“My case would be iconic given my status as a holder of the British National (Overseas) passport,” Cheng said. “It could pave the way for more similar passport holders to find a way to come to the UK [permanently].”

Holders of the BN(O) passport – permanent residents of Hong Kong who registered before the 1997 handover of the city to Chinese rule – have the right to land in Britain and enjoy a six-month stay as a visitor, but do not have full citizenship.

What is a BN(O) passport and what is a holder entitled to?

Cheng refused to go into details of his immigration arrangement, to be hammered out with the British government, saying only that he would hold a press conference as soon as it was clearer.

Mainland authorities have said that Cheng was held for 15 days for “solicitation of prostitution”.

But Cheng said he was “shackled, blindfolded and hooded” by officers in Shenzhen for having shown support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, such as joining some of the social media groups through which protesters coordinated their actions.

Sources told the South China Morning Post that, although the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was still considering Cheng’s case, the Home Office – Britain’s interior ministry – was supportive of it.

Revealed: Britain’s ‘disgraceful’ efforts to deny nationality to Hongkongers

Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, in November summoned Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming over what he called “the disgraceful mistreatment that Mr Cheng faced when he was in detention in mainland China”.

“We have made clear that we expect the Chinese authorities to review and hold to account those responsible,” Raab said then.

Outside the Chinese embassy yesterday, about 200 protesters gathered in the chilly wind in support of Hong Kong people and the Muslim minorities subjected to mass detention in China’s far-western region of Xinjiang.

Benedict Rogers, of the London-based Hong Kong Watch human rights organisation, said he had written privately to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson three weeks ago, demanding action on China’s human rights issues.

“So far there has been no response,” Rogers said.

Johnson, who is to oversee Britain leaving the European Union by the end of the month, is under pressure to forge a trade deal with China, limiting his room for manoeuvre on thorny issues such as human rights and 5G technology.

On 5G, British newspaper The Sunday Times has reported that spy agency Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, raised concerns about the British government’s expected proposal to allow Chinese telecoms company Huawei to build a noncore part of the country’s next-generation mobile network.

That put GCHQ at odds with domestic counter-intelligence and security agency MI5, whose head Andrew Parker said last week that he had “no reason today to think that” London’s long-standing intelligence partnership with Washington would be affected if Huawei was involved in building the network.

Washington has accused Huawei of being a threat to national security, lobbying its allies to veto the company’s involvement on the basis that its telecoms equipment could have “back doors” accessible to the Chinese government.

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